Environmental Activists Win Two Victories in British Columbia

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Protests stop a private hydro-electric megaproject and win a moratorium on salmon farming

This report was submitted by Roger Annis, a Vancouver-based trade unionist who is co-editor of Socialist Voice.

The environmental movement in British Columbia scored two important victories this past week.

Pitt River hydro development stopped

On March 26, the BC government announced that it would not approve a private electricity development along the Upper Pitt River watershed near Vancouver that would have trashed a pristine wilderness area. Below is a press release by one of the trade unions at the provincial electrical utility BC Hydro that has been centrally involved in the protest against this project.

The government’s announcement followed by one day a spectacular and raucous public meeting of 1,000 people in the affected area. The meeting was convened in order to hear the proposed developer present their case for the development. It turned into a near-unanimous condemnation of the project and its supporters in the government.

Among the many comments at the meeting summing up the mood was this one: "For years, we have fought to keep this river valley in pristine condition. We thought we were safe when a provincial park was created in the area some year ago. Now we are back into fighting to defend it. So, we can settle the issue tonight, by cancelling this latest project. Or we will settle it on the ground, up in the valley, in the months to come. Take your pick." A report of the meeting was published here.

Salmon farming moratorium

Another victory was scored when the government announced on March 27 that it would place a moratorium on salmon farming on some coastline areas of northern BC. Indigenous peoples along the BC coast as well as environmental groups have long fought for a moratorium on all salmon farms and the closing of existing farms. You can read more on this story here.

More anti-environment projects on the B.C. agenda

The BC government has opened up a modern day gold rush of private power and natural gas developments in the province. There are some 550 interested bidders for power projects. So the project along the Pitt River is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of these projects are now under construction.

The natural gas bonanza that has opened in the northeast of the province will entail the extraction of gas from shale deposits; in other words, these are projects whose environmental consequences are on the scale of the tar sands in northern Alberta.

The recently-announced plans of the government to spend some $10 billion of rapid transit "sky trains" in Vancouver will extend another kind of gold rush — real estate — that has already seen downtown Vancouver transformed into a city of high rises. There are fantastic sums to be earned along the routes of two proposed new lines, as well as more yet to be earned along the three existing routes. The provincial government has authorized its transit corporation, Translink, to enter into the business of real estate sales. This will complement the existing setup whereby the largest real estate corporations earn fantastic sums from housing and commercial "development" along the routes of rapid transit lines.

COPE News Release:

Cancellation of Upper Pitt IPP Proves Faults with BC’s Energy Plan; Project shows that run of river power is not green, not affordable, not needed

(Vancouver, BC March 26, 2008) Today’s decision by the BC Government to bow to public pressure and cancel the private power projects on the Upper Pitt River demonstrates the need to step back and reassess the private development of run of river projects across the BC, according to the union representing workers in BC energy’s sector.

"The government’s decision to pull the plug on this project proves just how powerful an impact community involvement can be in raising the alarm about unnecessary projects like this," said Andy Ross, President of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378 (COPE 378). "This decision also demonstrates that the development of hundreds of similar projects throughout BC needs to be re-assessed so that British Columbians can determine what the cumulative environmental and economic impacts of these projects are," added Ross.

"One of the clearest messages that the government has given with its decision is that privately-developed run of river power is simply not green," said Ross.

COPE 378 has worked closely with community, environmental, and conservationist groups in leading the opposition to the gold rush of private power development across BC. COPE 378’s Take Back the Power campaign will continue to work with these coalitions in developing an energy strategy that is actually green, respects community interest, is publicly owned, and that implements a genuine approach to sustainability and conservation.

"The government can’t honestly say that the Upper Pitt was a one-off, and that the dozens of other megaprojects around the province are completely different," said Ross. "Plutonic Power is proceeding with its 34-dams near Powell River with transmission lines that will traverse old growth forests, but the government appears to be giving Plutonic carte blanche, as they also appear to be doing with dozens of similar projects in the Kootenays," added Ross.

COPE 378 is calling for the government to implement an immediate moratorium on the development of privately-owned power in BC in order to assess the cumulative environmental, economic, and community impacts of these projects.

Independent research commissioned from SFU Economist Dr Marvin Shaffer demonstrates that there is no looming energy crisis in BC. This research also shows that the province has the time and space needed to properly assess long term energy requirements and the economic impacts of these, without taking the sort of environmental and economic risks demonstrated by private power projects like those in the Upper Pitt. This research is available at publicpowerbc.ca.

"The government needs to stop its political interference in energy policy and focus on meeting the needs of British Columbians, not facilitating an irresponsible gold rush," concluded Ross.


  • April 2009
    I hope you don’t mind but I am trying to urgently contact an Andrew Ross who originally lived in the UK,qualified in I think Marine Biology and emigrated to BC some years ago. Reading this article sounds so much like him I would appreciate it if this could be forwarded to him to see if he is the person I am trying to contact.

  • Many thoughts come to mind in reading this.

    1. The Portlands Energy centre, a natural gas processing plant, is being planned and built through the McGunity gvmt with some opposition from To. east enders, but is it sufficient to successfully oppose the plant? It will spew out carcogenic particulates which cause asthma in children – not as bad as coal – but bad enough, and it will emit GHGs.

    2. The article above just goes to show that the BC government, which claims to be enlightened vis. the environment and which implemented a carbon tax (albeit a relatively small one), is just like any other: opening its doors to extraction industries.

    These industries do something which Thomas Berry calls “geocide” (killing of the Earth), which contribute to “biocide” (killing of Earth’s life systems). He says these words do not exist in our judicial system, which is anthropocentric (human-centered).

    3. In terms of human populations, extraction industries clearly contribute to climate injustice. These industries’ impact on ecosystems and non-human inhabitants cannot be separated from their health impact on human populations – since humans are subject to the same laws as the ecosystems and are dependant on them for water and air. This is not just about the CO2, although clearly in the case of natural gas that is a major issue.

    What often happens, as in the example given in the article above, is that white communities successfully oppose the development through town-hall meetings of this sort, whereas aboriginal communities are not as successful. Clearwater BC – a white community – stopped a uranium mine, where as near Eliot Lake ON an aboriginal community did not.

    4. If you see “Refugees of the Blue Planet” it shows how sour gas extraction plants can kill local people, and also how small private property owners are powerless when the government allows prospectors to stake claims on their land. The same thing is happing in NE Ontario with the Mining Act and uranium mining. See the NFB film “Uranium” (availabe online at the NFB site under the menu selection “Aboriginals”) to get an impression of how industrial mining negatively affects aboriginal communities.

    Another example of industry that runs roughshod over local people is the film “Toxic Trespass” (NFB) it illustrates how people in the Sarnia-Windsor-Detroit area have 30% higher cancer rates and a majority of children suffer from asthma, due to transports trucks and heavy industry in that area.

    In addition to a Marxist perspective, look up David Loy’s article “the religion of the market” (available online) to get an impression of why all this is happening.

    5. Lastly, Derrick Jensen – whose main issue is dams – say that he gets up every morning and wonders whether to blow up the dams or write. He ends up writing and speaking publicaly – about blowing up dams. The FBI tails him at meetings, not surprisingly. Read his book “Endgame” and especially his “premises” (available online) – about the industrial society we live in and why (in his view) it cannot be redeemed, but must be destroyed. Very revolutionary, but from an ‘anarcho-primitivist’ perspective more than a Marxist perspective.